Posted by Gillian Fealy


The Live Grit community is made up of so many inspiring athletes that achieve amazing things. And, each one of us have our own reasons for setting out to achieve our goals. Heather is one of these amazing athletes. She's a triathlete. She runs for the kids of Mercy Home for Boys & Girls. She's a mother. She is an inspiration. And, this is her reason why...

I recently heard someone say “If you have a body, you’re an athlete.”

What an encouraging statement. I wish I had heard when I was a child. I spent about half of my life thinking that I was not athletic.

When I was in my early twenties, I moved back to the Chicago area after spending my undergrad years in the southwest. One of my new roommates was a triathlete and marathoner, and I was intrigued. He would go on runs and bike rides and come home hours later. Not because he had stopped for ice cream or had blown a tire, but because he was actually physically working out that whole time.  

While hardly a couch potato, that kind of fitness was foreign to me. Aside from high school friends who ran cross country, I had never known anyone who competed in endurance sports. I thought that level of physical prowess was reserved for professional athletes. It blew my mind that someone who was walking among us could exercise for multiple hours at a time. And live to tell.

I shared these views with my endurance roomie. How did you get into this? I asked him. How did you know what to do? How to train? What equipment you needed? How to eat?!

Bill told me how he stumbled onto triathlons accidentally and got hooked. He shared his memories of his own lack of athleticism early in life. (Who knew that just because you were not dominant in 6th grade dodgeball didn’t mean you couldn’t turn in respectable performances in something else?!) Bill rounded out our talk by encouraging me to train for a race.

It was, he assured me, both doable and figure-out-able.

So one day in 2004, I signed up for my first sprint triathlon. It was being held in my hometown, and the swim would be in the rock-quarry-turned-public-pool where I had first learned to swim as a child. I had three other girlfriends doing the race as well. We all went to dinner the night before and spent the night at one friend’s childhood home. The camaraderie was comforting as I was pretty nervous.  

Fast forward to 2017; I finished that same race for the 5th time. I am currently training for my first Olympic distance tri. 

I took a few years off from 2008 through 2012.

My first race back in 2013 propped up my confidence after caring for my colicky son left me feeling pretty ineffective and inept.

In 2014, completing in a triathlon soothed the pain of my recent divorce and helped me feel empowered during a demoralizing chapter of my life.

Now, competing in tri’s gives me a sense of accomplishment whenever I face setbacks or stumbling blocks in any aspect of my life. See my own progress and improvement is the most empowering experience I have ever had.